I don’t normally take much notice of whatever deliberately offensive thing professional attention-grabber Katie Hopkins is screeching about in order to generate publicity for herself, but her latest stunt has really hit a raw nerve with me. She has decided to put on 3.5 stones in weight, and then lose it, in order to show fat people how easy it is to lose weight. She shows such a lack of understanding of weight loss issues that I feel compelled to go against my better judgement and talk about her.
Her claim that, “fat people need to look in the mirror, look at themselves, and realise it’s their fault”, is thoughtless at best, and downright harmful at worst.
I have had weight issues since I was about seven years old. My weight has fluctuated up and down all my life, and I expect it will be a lifelong struggle for me to maintain some sort of control over my waistline. I accept responsibility for my own health, and I know that my weight issues are a result of calories in, versus calories out. But it is also so much more than that.
There will be some people who fit into Katie Hopkins’ stereotypical view that fat people are lazy and eat too much. I’m sure for some people, weight loss would be relatively simple if they really put their mind to it, but I’d be willing to wager that the vast majority of people with weight issues have deep-seated emotional issues when it comes to food. Telling someone that to overcome those issues will be easy is a very ill-informed and reductive view. Saying to a fat person, “Why don’t you just lose weight?” is a little bit like telling a person with depression that they should “just cheer up.”
I eat when I am stressed, I eat when I am bored and I eat when I am unhappy. I eat as a way to celebrate and I eat as a reward. I know that this is not a particularly healthy approach to food, but it is a very difficult cycle to break, and something which I think would take years of therapy (and I’ve had some already) to fix. As a person whose BMI hovers around the border between overwight and obese, I am keenly aware that I am bigger than I should be, and my weight is a daily struggle. It’s something that I think about every day, and sometimes it really gets me down.
Most of the upward trends which I’ve experienced with my weight have been when I have been down, sad, or lonely. It’s too easy to eat in order to give yourself pleasure because you’re not getting pleasure from anywhere else. You then put on weight, and get sad about the result, so you look for pleasure in the same place again – food. It’s a vicious cycle, and recognising that it’s a vicious cycle doesn’t even help, because it is so difficult to break it. If you have deep-rooted issues of insecurity and low self-esteem, and hate your body, it would be wonderful to reach into a cupboard and pull out a size 10 body in order to make yourself feel better. You can’t do that, but you can reach into a cupboard and pull out a cake or a packet of crisps to bring you momentary pleasure. The trouble is, this is often followed by guilt and self-loathing, and then you go all the way back to the start of the cycle.
We’re all capable of being lazy from time to time. I’m not lazy when it comes to exercise – I just hate it. I go to the gym a couple of times a week to try to keep on top of my weight, but the truth is that I hate pretty much all forms of exercise, in the same way that I hate pretty much all romantic comedies, or absolutely every kind of seafood. You can tell me all you like that I’m being lazy and that I’d start to like fish if I found the right kind, but the fact is I wouldn’t. I just hate it. Some people are simply not cut out for exercise, and putting themselves through it week-in, week-out can be soul-crushing. Gasping for air while wobbling about on the treadmill, sweating and hurting, while slim gym-bunnies all around you make it look easy – well, it’s one of the most soul-destroying experiences there is. The two hours I spend in the gym is literally the lowest point of my week, every week. But I do it because I’m terrified of what would happen to my weight if I didn’t. It makes me genuinely miserable, but I do it anyway. I’m not looking for a pat on the head for this, I am just trying to disprove the theory that all fat people are lazy.
It’s no coincidence that one of my heaviest times was right after my dad died. The sadness I felt was so all-consuming that I didn’t have the will to do anything but shut myself in my house and eat comfort food. My self-esteem plumetted – one of the major positive influences on my life had been removed in one fell swoop, and I was left with an odd feeling of not really knowing who I was any more, and not really caring about myself. This wasn’t me being ignorant or lazy, this was me really struggling to get through every day, and finding comfort in something that was easily available to me.
This is a very personal blog post, and that’s because weight loss is such a personal issue – something which a lot of people simply do not seem to understand. There is no simple cure-all fix for everyone. Yes, on paper, the solution seems easy – if you eat less and exercise more you will lose weight. But if you feel worthless, you might also feel like you don’t deserve the time, energy and effort that goes into losing weight. If you’re plagued with feelings like, “Why do I bother?”, “What’s the point?” and “I’m a failure”, you’re not going to be in the correct mindset that’s required to lose weight.
Katie Hopkins obviously doesn’t suffer from this type of emotional attachment to food. I’m not saying she doesn’t have her own insecurites, but she clearly isn’t a victim of the kind of vicious cycle I’m talking about – well, lucky her. She is missing the point so colossally with this that I fear her efforts are going to be completely pointless, as all she will learn is that a person who doesn’t have weight loss issues has no problem losing weight. That’s not exactly a scientific breakthrough.
To tar all fat people with the same brush and say they are lazy and to blame for their own problems is reductive and harmful. Yes, we are all in charge of our own health, but we need the right tools to fix ourselves, should we wish to. Obesity is often a symptom of a broader problem, and it is this underlying problem which needs to be tackled. I’m not a stupid person – I know I eat too much, and I hate exercise. But knowing that, and having the psycological means to do something about it are two competely different things.
I know that Katie Hopkins makes a living out of saying and doing outrageous things, and that I shouldn’t really waste my time talking about her latest ridiculous statements. But she should think a little bit more carefully about the consequences of her actions. I think she might genuinely believe what she’s doing will help people see the light, but in truth all she may end up doing is causing sad, vulnerable people to suffer a further blow to their already low self-esteem.
Many years ago, on a blog far, far away, I wrote a post about a zumba class I attended. My experience wasn’t altogether positive, despite it making for a most amusing anecdote. I found the class weird, embarrassing and rather pointless, and the whole corporate aspect of it was quite off-putting: instructors wear official Zumba parachute pants and bras, and you do the classes to official Zumba music. The whole thing is like a loud and suspiciously cheerful bouncy cult.
I’ve been attempting to exercise regularly for years now, in a bid to stay a little bit fitter and keep the weight off. But I don’t enjoy exercise at all. Recently, I defected from my decrepit old gym to a newer, nicer one, in the vain hope that it would motivate me a bit more. In actual fact, all that’s happened is that I’m just utterly miserable in nicer surroundings, so when I caught sight of a list of exercise classes I thought I might give one a go, for a change.
That’s when I saw that my gym offers a twice weekly Bokwa class. What the hell is Bokwa? I thought. I googled it, and couldn’t believe I’d stumbled across a fitness idea that was even more ridiculous than Zumba.
This is the definition on the official Bokwa site (I’m steadfastly refusing to copy and paste the first paragraph from the site because it contains an erroneous apostrophe, which has made me furious):
BOKWA® is Different. It is not really a dance workout – there is no choreography and no counting steps. Participants draw letters and numbers with their feet, while moving together to music in free form rhythm.
Everyone is doing it. If you can move and you can spell, you can do Bokwa®. From 4 year old kids, to men and women in their seventies, to guys with “2 left feet”, to world champion dancers, Bokwa ® engages participants of all ages in the same class and to the same music.
What now? Fitness crossed with spelling? I shouldn’t really be surprised, one of my colleagues was telling me the other day that a friend of hers participates in boxing chess, which is exactly what it sounds like. You’d think that at some point, people would just admit that all the possible forms of exercise have already been invented, but then, some genius will come up with a brand new, preposterous idea like ‘naked backwards hockey’ or ‘death match Twister’ and everyone gets in line to don the official clothing and have a go.
Even after reading the definition, I couldn’t quite get my head around what it would involve. Most people, when I described it, imagined some sort of weird YMCA type thing, like semaphore but with added techno music.
Actually, there might be some mileage in that idea…but I digress.
I went on YouTube and watched a couple of videos, which baffled me even further. The people all look insanely happy, like someone has pumped laughing gas into the studio, but I couldn’t quite see how they were spelling anything.
So I went along not really knowing what to expect. I was not surprised at all to be greeted with an instructor in official regulation Bokwa trousers and top. She did have generic awful aerobics music rather than offical Bokwa music though, so that was one thing it had over Zumba already.
She started off by saying that she only really did Ls and Js, which already set alarm bells off in my head. Exactly what was I going to be able to spell with just Ls and Js? I had wondered if I’d be able to go freestyle and spell out rude words, or maybe the long foreign names of sports personalities. I reckon I’d burn a few calories spelling out the name of the Ferrari F1 big cheese, Luca di Montezemolo.